By Holly Cain IMSA Wire Service
Austin Dillon showed up at Daytona International Speedway eager to join an elite club of drivers to score two premier race victories at the historic track. In Dillon’s case, a Rolex 24 At Daytona class win on the road course this weekend to partner with his NASCAR 2018 Daytona 500 triumph.
Dillon will make his Rolex 24 debut driving the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class No. 51 RWR-Eurasia Ligier with co-drivers Cody Ware, Salih Yoluc and Sven Muller. It’s been a learning experience for Dillon, who will be making his first Daytona road course start after missing last year’s NASCAR Cup Series race while recovering from the coronavirus.
Even with the simulator work he’s done back home in North Carolina, it’s been a fast-paced quest to get up to speed in his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut; navigating a dark (and new) course and understanding a different car. It’s been a real learning process, but one readily accepted.
“Last year, unfortunately, I missed this road course race at Daytona with COVID, so I figured any laps on the track would be helpful, and it turns out there was an opportunity with (team owner) Rick Ware and Eurasia and it all came together fast,’’ said Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in the Cup Series. “It’s been a blast to try and figure out something new. It’s the first time I’ve been nervous getting into a race car. The speed difference from a Cup car even – just going at that pace with that big grip level these cars have – has been really good for me to experience, and I think it’s going to help me a ton getting back in a Cup car, hopefully.’’
Dillon has wanted to pursue a Rolex 24 opportunity for a while. NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver AJ Allmendinger and recently retired seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson are all in the Rolex 24 this year, too. Dillon said he definitely asked his stock car compatriots about the event over the course of the week.
Just being a part of this international racing kickoff – rubbing shoulders in the paddock with participants representing a wide variety of motorsports series – has been a positive start to the new year.
“It’s a great experience,’’ Dillon said with a smile. “I was able to take it all in, take a golf cart ride around and see different things. It’s been nice and everyone in IMSA has been great to talk to and very welcoming. As far as the drivers, they are very cool to work with. I’ve got guys from the Philippines, New Zealand and England on my team, not just the drivers but the guys working on the cars.
“The 24-hour race is kind of like the world coming together. It’s really cool to see and get to work with different people and see different cultures come together for one common goal to try and win one of the biggest races of the year.’’